ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected — with a stern “no” — a request by the federal government to let 43 cantonment boards, which are without any public representation for the past 15 years, continue for one more year or till the holding of local government elections in boards.
Instead, a three-judge Supreme Court bench headed Chief Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jillani ordered Additional Attorney General (AAG) Shah Khawar to consult the defence ministry and inform about the final date of holding the local government elections when the case would be taken up again on Jan 16.
The court resumed hearing of a 2009 petition of former vice president of Cantonment Board Quetta Advocate Raja Rab Nawaz who has challenged the absence of local government elections in different cantonment boards.
On May 5, 2012 the then prime minister granted extension to cantonment boards for one year — a period that expired on the same date on 2013. Consequently, the apex court headed by then chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry extended the deadline of holding the elections to Sept 15, 2013 after it received a commitment by Secretary Defence retired Lt Gen Asif Yasin on July 2.
When the commitment was not met the court initiated contempt proceedings and indicted the defence secretary and suggested the government either hold local government elections under the existing laws or consider restoring Section 15e of the Cantonment Board Act, 1924, that suggests revival of the old body dissolved after completing their tenure.
The apex court allowed the Election Commission of Pakistan to hold local government elections in cantonment boards in February this year. But, on Thursday the government once again requested the apex court for an extension of one more year, stating that a bill to bring amendment in the Cantonments Boards Acts, 1924, had been tabled and the government was waiting for its approval from the National Assembly.
Explaining, the government stated that allowing the extension for another year under Section 14(1 b) of the cantonment act was essential in the best public interest to help continue with the mandatory monthly meetings under section 37(1) of the act and statutory obligations and performance of the public services like approving building plans and development projects.
On Sept 11 last year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif constituted a 12-member committee of the cabinet headed by Federal Minister Zahid Hamid to bring amendments to the Cantonments Local Government (Elections) Ordinance, 2002, by incorporating qualifications and disqualifications for councillors of cantonment boards.
The law envisaged a 25-member board half of which would be elected directly through local government polls and the rest would be nominated by the Station House Commander who acts as the president of the board. But, the prime minister was not happy with the composition and described elections to cantonment boards meaningless in the presence of the 50 per cent nominated members.
The committee after holding five meetings sent its recommendation in the form of a draft bill to the prime minister, titled “The Cantonment Laws (Amendment) Bill 2013” which was introduced in the National Assembly on Dec 5 and is now under consideration of a standing committee.
The defence ministry, a government statement said, was waiting for the decision of the parliament. In case the Cantonments (Amendment) Ordinance, 2013, is issued, the election would be held, giving reasonable time for the notification of the relevant rules and the time required by the ECP for holding elections. Or, if Cantonment Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2013, is enacted by the parliament, fresh delimitation of wards and union councils would be required to be undertaken in addition to new election rules in the light of the act, the government emphasised while requesting for the reasonable time.
On Jan 16, Mr Khawar would also inform the court about the government plans on holding similar elections in Islamabad.